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Baltimore ChangeMakers: A Local Champion for Civil Rights

Tessa Hill-Aston is President of the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP. Andre Chung / for NBC News

Baltimore: ChangeMakers will introduce you to some of the individuals who are engaging youth, seeking to improve their neighborhoods block by block, and demanding that their voices be heard in corridors of power. Each one is different but determined in their own unique way to change the paradigm in the city, pushing to help rebuild it one day, one person at a time.

NBCBLK Presents: ChangeMakers: Baltimore
NBCBLK Presents, ChangeMakers: Baltimore. NBCBLK

ChangeMaker: Tessa Hill-Aston

Hashtag: #NAACP #RestoretheVRA


In her three decades as an NAACP member, Tessa Hill-Aston has been an outspoken voice for civil and human rights.

But since last year's death of Freddie Gray, the president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP has worked even more tirelessly: attending peaceful protests and vigils, monitoring the trials of the officers' charged in the case, and listening to the concerns of community members.

RELATED: Baltimore ChangeMakers: A Lawyer's Fight For Freddie Gray Family and Others Like Him

"We canvassed the neighborhood where [Gray] lived. One of the things we heard, especially from a lot of men, was that they couldn't find a job because of criminal records," says Hill-Aston. "Many had cases that hadn't been processed, or the charges were dropped. Some had been locked up for bogus reasons."

To address the issue, the Baltimore branch (founded in 1912) has teamed with area lawyers, law students and legal clinics to assist individuals in getting records expunged that meet the necessary legal parameters. "We do it at least twice a month and it's free."

In her leadership role, Hill-Aston has also forged relationships with local government, businesses, religious and community leaders. Moreover, the Baby Boomer has made a concerted effort to bring more young people into the NAACP fold.

Tessa Hill-Aston is President of the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP. She's been on the front lines and has monitored the Freddie Gray case as well as several other high profile cases in the city. André Chung / for NBC News

"A college chapter was recently re-established at Morgan State University," she said, crediting graduating senior, Audrey Bagby, with galvanizing fellow students.

A familiar presence around the city (often accompanied by her husband, Joseph, and sometimes wearing matching blue and yellow NAACP T-shirts), Hill-Aston and other volunteers in the organization regularly conduct voter registration drives.

RELATED: OpEd: Freddie Gray and The Reality of The 'Just Us' System

In this age of social media and online activism, she doesn't mind engaging folks face to face.

"We still knock on doors. Talking to people and educating them about voting is one of the most important things we can do to ensure justice and equality."

Our Baltimore: Change Makers series will introduce you to some of the stand-out individuals who are part of a burgeoning movement. Each is determined to help the city rebuild, block by block, person by person, one day at a time. As you read their profiles we hope that you will be inspired to join the conversation and let us know, who are your neighborhood #ChangeMakers? #BaltimoreChangeMakers

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